Chance of profit in free range poultry

Which came first the chicken or the egg?

It’s a rhetorical question, but as UK Farming plc ventures towards more open, unsupported markets, then perhaps the answer demands some time for contemplation.

After experiencing the damning impact of both BSE and F&M, livestock farmers know only too well the negative impact such crises can have on production, profits, and – more importantly – personal lives.

But in the latest catalogue of crises – albeit at this stage, thankfully, theoretical – it appears avian flu is having a positive impact on some areas of the poultry sector.

Anecdotal evidence suggests demand for free-range birds and eggs is growing aided, by greater consumer awareness over the sourcing of poultry products in recent months.

And that’s good news for those livestock producers who look to adopt or have recently established new free-range egg and broiler poultry enterprises in a bid to bolster farm profits, say suppliers.

Like any business there can be a sizeable commitment in land, labour and capital, explains one franchise operator.

Figures of £250,000, depending on spec, for a start-up 12,000-bird laying unit may clip some producers’ wings, but long depreciation schedules and a track record of profitability can help inform lenders of viability.

Much smaller enterprises can spring up from redundant livestock buildings with access to pasture when considering free-range systems, or well-ventilated open-span sheds for barn-type businesses.

As with any venture, success depends significantly on establishing an end market for produce.

Unsurprising, then, that help with marketing is often a key component to franchise and contractual agreements.

There is even flexibility in some agreements allowing producers to sell a portion of eggs and poultry via gate sales or through other retail outlets.

But the rewards are often greater than the bottom line profit (suggested at over £5/bird for egg-laying enterprises, despite fluctuations of the market in recent years).

Indeed, it’s said to bring a complete change of lifestyle for some.

Poultry, like other livestock, require commitment, but integrated supply chains from provision of poults to fetching of finished birds or eggs can remove some of the daily grind experienced in other livestock systems, possibly allowing operators time to consider the rhetorical question; was it the chicken or the egg?